A veterans group, with the blessing of ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, plans to move his Ten Commandments monument out of storage at the state judicial building this evening to take it on a national "God Bless America" tour.
The granite monument has been out of public view for nearly a year after Moore lost a court fight over its display. It will be hauled to rallies for three months by American Veterans Standing for God and Country, with the first rally to be held July 31st in Dayton, Tennessee.
The president of the veterans group says they're mounting the tour because the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American law. Moore, who's preparing to file an appeal of his ouster with the U.S. Supreme Court, says Americans "need to be reminded of our moral foundation" during the national debate over gay marriage.
Moore was removed from office in November for refusing to obey a federal court order to move his monument from the rotunda of the state courthouse.
The state Court of the Judiciary unanimously imposed the harshest penalty possible after a one-day trial in which Moore said his refusal was a moral and lawful acknowledgment of God. Prosecutors said Moore's defiance, left unchecked, would harm the judicial system.
Moore, a champion of religious conservatives, had been suspended since August but was allowed to collect his $170,000 annual salary. He was halfway through his six-year term.
Speaking immediately after the decision, a defiant Moore told supporters he had only acknowledged God as is done in other official procedures and documents.
"I have absolutely no regrets. I have done what I was sworn to do," he said, drawing applause.
Presiding Judge William Thompson said the nine-member court had no choice in its decision after Moore willfully and publicly ignored the federal court order. "The chief justice placed himself above the law," Thompson said.
A federal judge had ruled the monument was an unconstitutional promotion of religion by the government. A federal appeals court upheld the ruling, and the Supreme Court refused to hear Moore's appeal. The monument eventually was rolled to the storage room on instructions from the eight associate justices.
The ad hoc Court of the Judiciary heard the case after a complaints filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission.
The chief justice testified he was fulfilling his duties and promises to voters when he refused to follow the court order.
Moore, 56, testified that he followed his conscience and did nothing to violate judicial ethics.
"To acknowledge God cannot be a violation of the Canons of Ethics. Without God there can be no ethics," Moore testified.
He had also reiterated his stance that, given another chance to fulfill the court order, he again would refuse to do so. When one panelist, Circuit Judge J. Scott Vowell of Birmingham, asked Moore what he would do with the monument if he were returned to office, the chief justice said he had not decided, but added: "I certainly wouldn't leave it in a closet, shrouded from the public."
It was as a circuit court judge in Gadsden in the 1990s that Moore became known as the "Ten Commandments Judge" after he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for opening court sessions with prayer and for displaying a hand carved Ten Commandments display behind his bench.
He said Wednesday that when he ran for chief justice in 2000, his entire campaign was based on "restoring the moral foundation of law." He added that it took him eight months to personally design the monument, which he helped move into the judicial building in the middle of the night on July 31, 2001.